Sunday Salon: On Tucson’s Banned Books

Untitled, 1949; Dimmit, Texas. Photograph by Russell Lee.

As some of you may have heard, the acclaimed ethnic studies (read: Mexican American studies) program in Tucson schools was booted out of existence effective January 1, 2012. Though some schools have student populations where Mexican Americans comprise up to 90% of the student body and Native Americans comprise up to 5%, students are no longer allowed to study some (and in some cases all, especially if the name sounds Latino) of the works by certain authors including the likes of:

  • Sherman Alexie
  • Isabel Allende
  • Rudolfo Anaya
  • Gloria Anzaldua
  • James Baldwin
  • Ana Castillo
  • Sandra Cisneros
  • Junot Díaz
  • Laura Esquivel
  • Dagoberto Gilb
  • bell hooks
  • Tomás Rivera
  • William Shakespeare
  • Leslie Marmon Silko
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Luiz Valdez
  • Howard Zinn

Apparently Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a breeding ground for discussions about race and colonialism. And only a commie would read something titled Civil Disobedience, even if Thoreau was mostly a nature dude. Or something.

The more I find out about which books were banned and which classes were dropped, it really does sound like all books by Mexican American authors are now off limits to students on the grounds that they promote “resentment toward a race or class of [white] people,” among other things.

It’s bullshit. Eurocentric, xenophobic bullshit.

I *wish* I’d had something like this back when I was in high school. I, too, went to a school that was about 90% Mexican American (if not more). It wasn’t until I was well into college that I was properly taught something that was culturally relevant (like the fact that there had been an entire Chicano civil rights movement I never knew about). And books?! HA! I will die of shock if I find out that my former schools are teaching something besides the requisite The House on Mango Street, Zoot Suit, and Bless Me, Ultima. It’s shameful. And providing something like the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, only to take it away mid-year — or, frankly, ever — is just downright cruel.

In solidarity with the MAS program, in solidarity with the thousands of young students who are now forbidden from learning about their own heritage in schools, I’m going to read the banned books. All of them (the list starts on page 116). Consider this post the official beginning of one of my long-term reading projects.

I’m also considering organizing a weekend-long online read-in that would be open to anyone who’s interested, but that’s still swimming around in the ether that is my brain. Would anyone be interested in participating in something like that?

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11 comments

  1. pani Katarzyna

    I did hear about it and it’s just plain terrible. Who knows where it will go from there? To ban college courses on the subject all over the place? Poor oppressed WASPs. **sighs**

    Anyway, thank you for providing the link to the list of books, some really interesting titles there, they all go straight to my wishlist!

  2. cindylu

    I’d join in. Some of my favorite books/writers are on that list.

    Like you, the only fiction I read by Latino writers in school was House on Mango Street and Bless Me Ultima. It meant so much just to have those. I think we read a little bit of Gary Soto too, but not novels. I majored in Chican@ Studies in college and read a lot of the works listed here. Relevant education is so important to me and it pisses me off that Arizona and Tucson USD is doing its best to take that away for students.

  3. Emily Jane

    It really is horribly absurd. I don’t know if I’d have time to do it, but I love the idea of a read-in and will participate if I can. So many great-sounding books…

  4. amymckie

    LOVE the idea and yes, I want to read them all too. Somehow. At some point. There are a lot of books on that list but they all sound interesting, and the project idea is important. I mean, really, it should be just as ‘dangerous’ to read white authors, no? It is so angering!

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